I take the long way home.

I take the long way home.

As a born maximizer, I love my GPS: I like knowing the most efficient route to reach my destination.

But as I’ve gotten older (and wiser, I hope) I’ve realized there are more ways to measure efficiency than just speed and distance.

To illustrate: a story.

Once upon a time, I lived in the Chicago suburbs. Will and I thought long and hard about settling down in the Windy City after we got married.

We didn’t. The cost of living and brutal Chicago winters nudged us south, but a crucial third factor in my pro/con list was Roosevelt Road: a wide, strip-mall lined artery through Chicago’s western suburbs that I navigated regularly and hated with the fire of a thousand suns. (Or, perhaps, the fire of a thousand sputtering, exhaust-spewing engines.)

It was ugly, and slow, and ugly. I resented every minute I spent on that road, even if it was the fastest way to reach my destination.

(I suspect being an HSP was a factor.)

We ended up back in Louisville, where there’s a road that reminds me more and more of that dreaded Chicago thoroughfare with every passing year. (For the locals: Shelbyville Road. Shudder.)

I drove that road almost daily for years, until one day, undone by the weight of the burgeoning cell phone stores, and car dealerships, vast concrete parking lots, stoplights, and yet another Walgreens, I had a revelation: I could take the long way home.

nyc-traffic

I stopped driving the soul-sucking road that day. It’s been three years, and I haven’t looked back.

Unless my destination is actually on that horrible road, I don’t drive on it. Because time and gas are valuable resources, but so are my mental energy, my (generally) chipper attitude, and my patience with endless concrete landscapes.

A new project from Yahoo researchers aims to help pedestrians find the beautiful routes to their destinations, and not just the fastest ones. While distance is a factor, their algorithm also prioritizes finding routes that are “emotionally pleasant.”

On average, the beautiful routes are just 12 percent longer than the shortest ones: a price I’m happy to pay for a soul-filling route instead of a dreary one. (While they’re mapping pedestrian routes, and I’m in my vehicle, I’ve found driving a mere three blocks out of my way makes my own oft-traveled routes much more “emotionally pleasant.”)

As a maximizer, this strategy has its limits: when I’m traveling long distances, I take the interstate. But traveling a short distance out of my way—say, 12% or so—to prioritize beauty over speed is a small change that makes me much happier, on a daily basis.

I’ll sacrifice three minutes of my time for thirty minutes of “emotionally pleasant” travel any day.

I’d love to hear about the soul-sucking (or beautiful!) roads you travel and your own struggles with beauty vs. efficiency in comments.

P.S. Making myself make the effort, and books for the messy, winding road.

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70 comments

  1. LoriM says:

    I remember Roosevelt Road, though I didn’t have to drive it often in the years I lived in West Chicago (actually 30 miles west of Chicago with Wheaton and several other towns in between). I did take the train to Chicago for 18 months – that was fun – for a while.

    Now I live in the NW Detroit suburbs, working in Ann Arbor and a couple years ago when there was construction on the fast highway route, I discovered some back roads which I still take sometimes (except THIS summer there’s construction on THAT route!). I would actually sit at my desk and dream of my leafy afternoon trip home. Ahhh… the green…

    We have a park road/route (Hines Drive, Northville to Dearborn Heights for locals) to church which is beautiful – but slow. I’m always trying to talk the husband in to driving that way. This summer our main highway route to church is COMPLETELY closed for MAJOR construction and it’s been – interesting. Luckily we spend most weekends at a house on a lake so we’re not dealing with traffic at all. Can’t wait to move there for good!

  2. Anne says:

    You lived in Illinois! I live in Illinois! 🙂

    But not the ‘burbs.

    What a lovely post. It’s like you have your own White Way of Delight. 😉 Thanks for letting us know about the Yahoo project. How inspiring.

    As for beauty versus efficiency, this is why I can’t shop at Wal-Mart anymore. The overhead lights, the cavernous feeling, the grating colors…..I might get everything in one stop (and more cheaply), but the experience always left me drained. I enjoy my local Kroger’s much more for aesthetics, music, and better service.

  3. Lucy says:

    I recently had a very similar experience! For the last two years, my commute home has been an hour of stop-and-go on a 4 lane highway which often left me cranky and emotionally spent. Recently, I discovered a back way from work to home through several really nice neighborhoods and towns. Instead of getting frustrated when faced with hoards of super aggressive Massachusetts drivers, I drive through neighborhoods with families out walking dogs, schools, and pretty houses. My attitude and outlook has really improved just by changing my route!

  4. This inspired me to look up how much extra time it will take me to avoid the road I hate (I-24 … just not a good Interstate driver) when driving to Libbie’s new elementary school (NEXT WEEK. AGHHH!). One extra minute from where I am going to drop David for his prek ride. OH HECK YEAH. 🙂 I love taking back roads but too often I listen to my GPS.

  5. 'Becca says:

    We drive between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia several times a year. The PA Turnpike has some lovely scenery…but it’s full of giant trucks, and the service plazas offer a limited selection of high-priced cruddy food. Often, we choose to take U.S. 30, which adds about an hour to the trip but has even better scenery, less threatening traffic, much more charm, and many many more options for rest stops.

    When my son was in preschool, I found a much nicer way to walk between the school and my office by going just a tiny bit out of my way: I didn’t know that was a forest!

  6. Jessica says:

    I grew up in Naperville and thought I understood traffic until I moved to Southern California. Thankfully, we don’t have to drive all that far very often but when we do, I prefer the more relaxing and visually pleasing ride all the way. Heck, I even pay $12 sometimes to take the tollroads out to a friends house (it’s only 30 miles away!) simply because the roads are empty and you drive through the mountains. An occasional $12 beats the misery I’d endure sitting on the 91.

  7. Lucy Keating says:

    I live in Skokie, a north suburb (not north shore suburb) of Chicago and we too have our ugly main roads (i.e Dempster St.) but I’ll put up with that for the experience I had recently when I drove my husband to his office on LaSalle St. in downtown Chicago. Traveling southbound on Lake Shore Drive, sun shining, lake on the left, “Sweet Home Chicago” playing on the radio. Indeed.

    • Anne says:

      That sounds amazing. Chicago is one of my favorite cities and that makes me want to go there right now! (But I’ll wait till September. I love the city in September. 🙂 )

  8. Diana Hall says:

    My hubs and I are always looking for alternate routes. We try to take different routes to and from on trips. We all need some variety and adventure. I, however, also prefer the slower 2-lane roads and avoid “freeways” whenever possible. It is so much better for the nerves!

  9. Thanks so much for this article. When we lived in Lake Geneva WI and my DH was working in Downtown Chicago, we learned it was both more thrifty and pleasant to take the train in from Crystal Lakes. I am willing to sacrifice a bit of time for beauty. It is something that grounds me and helps restore the idea of a ‘bigger picture’ in life. Now that we live in the south end of the Salt Lake valley in Utah, we often take the train downtown instead of driving it even though it takes longer. It is so beautiful that we have encouraged friends and family to try the ‘Trax’.

  10. Christy says:

    I didn’t even realize this was a “thing” but I’ve been doing it for a long time.

    On long trips, I would rather drive 100 miles out of my way and avoid I-95 craziness, and I often do. The shortest route just isn’t worth the spike in blood pressure I experience when I see that the car behind me is two inches behind my bumper, trying to find a wrinkle in the space-time continuum so that he or she can get by all the other cars that are trying to go where we’re going.

    I used to do it old-school with a map or just by guessing which road would go where, or by knowing a place really, really well, but I have a horrible sense of direction and I’ve moved a lot and my life has been completely revolutionized by GPS. Now I can experiment without fear anywhere. Even new places where I would never have gotten my bearings enough in less than a year.

    I recently moved to a new town and found I had no sense of where anything was relative to anything else because my GPS kept dumping me onto a (pretty pleasant small) highway, and *poof* I’d pop out an exit and be there with no real sense of what was between me and home. I finally realized that if I went to “avoidances” and turned on “highway”, the GPS would guide me through actual, real neighborhoods so I could learn the lay of the land and find new places I might not otherwise discover. I’m also a big fan of my GPS’s “detour” function, which, if I hit it, will route me around anything unpleasant or annoying and is another good way to find alternate routes even when there isn’t an accident or traffic jam.

    • Karlyne says:

      Thanks for giving me an insight into I-95! We live right off of US-95 in Idaho, and, frankly, it had never dawned on me that there was a difference until you mentioned it. And, what we may whine about in the way of traffic is, uh, not much! So, I’m glad you’ve found a way to avoid it in your neck of the woods.

  11. Christy says:

    Haha, interesting. The Oregon-Idaho version (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Route_95_in_Idaho) sounds vastly more pleasant than the Maine-Florida version (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_95). The “little” section between about Maryland and Maine encompassing Baltimore, DC, NJ, New York City, and Boston is especially stressful, but of course you can find craziness in states as small as Rhode Island and Delaware, as far North as Portland, ME and as far south as Miami, FL.

    • Karlyne says:

      Parts of US-95 are pretty barren, and middle of nowhere-ish, but parts of it are gorgeous beyond belief, mountains and green valleys, rivers and canyons. Truck traffic can be what we call heavy, but I suspect you’d laugh at us.

  12. Erin says:

    Wow! I have never thought about this. I get off the interstate from time to time, but with my regular commute this doesn’t change much other than giving me something to actually look at. When I was in high school and finally able to drive I would do this every day. I loved driving that tree lined route in every season and it always refreshed my soul. Even now, just thinking about it is having the same results.

  13. ruth says:

    One year I worked a full hour from home. I discovered the best audiobook (after Harry Potter) in the world that year. And I discovered the most beautiful road in my state. I still drive that road when I go visit my parents, and it never fails to calm, soothe, and delight me.

  14. Cathy Armour says:

    I pay 12%, or more, for organic groceries instead of “the easy and inexpensive way”. I cook mostly from scratch because it’s better for me. Why won’t I take 12% longer to drive the beautiful route and be emotionally blessed. GREAT POINT!

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